Main Characters: Chris, Adam, Vin
Webmaster Note: This story was previously hosted at another website and was moved to blackraptor in June of 2012.
Author Note: This is a sort of partner piece to At the Dance and a response to the blackraptor Chris fanfic challenge #10, Much Like Chicken and Dumplings.
“Howdy, Cowboy,” Vin Tanner greeted his friend as he came to stand on the boardwalk near the gunslinger.
“Vin,” Chris Larabee returned the greeting in his customary style. With his black hat pulled down to shade his eyes, it was difficult to tell whether or not the man was dozing or watching the street.
“Waiting for the stage,” Larabee said quietly.
Peering at the sky, Vin estimated the time of day and said, “it’s late.”
“Yep,” Chris chuckled. “Right on time.”
Laughing with his friend, Vin nodded, stepped into the saloon, and returned with two mugs of beer. Handing Chris one, he sat down and tipped his chair back, watching the street with the other man. As usual their conversation consisted mostly of grunts and monosyllables. After nearly an hour, they heard a familiar sound and looked up to see the stage hurrying toward them. Tanner adjusted his posture so that he could get a better look at the passengers while staying hidden in the shadows. Larabee’s hat tilted back a fraction of an inch, but otherwise he seemed unmoved. The two men took inventory of the disembarking passengers, and found no one to be concerned about.
“Looks like it’s gonna stay quiet around here,” Tanner said softly. Then Vin noticed Chris’ attention was focused on a young couple who had disembarked last. The young man was awkwardly holding a blanket wrapped bundle that he assumed was probably a baby. “Someone y’ know pard?”
After a moment's silence, Chris shook his head, then began to chuckle softly. “Nope, just reminded me of something.” As the two men watched, the man seemed to be pleading with his wife. The young woman turned on her heel and stomped away, leaving the man to tend the infant. He hurried by the two chuckling men, the blanketed bundle held away from him, his nose wrinkled. Larabee watched the man disappear into the hotel, his laughter grew louder.
Vin stared at him, wondering for a minute if the man had lost his mind. “Damn Chris, that caught y’ awful funny.”
The uncharacteristic show of mirth slowly abated. Wiping laughter-tears from his handsome face, the older man said, “Just remembering something from a long time ago, another new father trying to figure out which end was up with his baby son.”
Squinting at Larabee, the young hunter said, “You talkin’ ‘bout a certain hard-assed gunslinger I know?”
“Reckon so, only he wasn’t such a hard-ass back then,” Chris gave his friend an almost mischievous look. “More of a smart-ass I’d say. But one thing I wasn’t too smart on was babies. I’d never had much to do with them, and when it came time for me to be a father to one of my own, I was about as helpless as...” he paused and shook his head, “hell, I don’t know of anything as helpless as I was back then...”
“Sarah, are you sure about this?” Chris Larabee looked nervously at his wife of two years.
“Chris, everything’s going to be fine. I’m going to be back in six or seven hours.” Sarah’s expression was a cross between frustration and humor.
“But, if he gets hungry, or wet, or...”
She came over and put a delicate hand on each of his shoulders and pressed him to the chair. “Chris Larabee, your son is eight months old and you’ve never taken care of him by yourself. It’s about time you took some responsibility for our son.”
“Ain’t a man’s place,” he began, then cut himself off. Such an argument might work with most women, but not with his wife. “Look,” he changed tactics, trying to avoid the fire that was growing in her dark eyes, “what if...what if I break him or something?”
She laughed, a sound that always reminded him of the wind chimes he had hung for her behind their house. “Adam’s as tough as his Papa, you won’t break him. Now stop fretting, okay? I’ve already shown you what to do, you’ve practiced, and you’ll do fine. I’ll be back before nightfall, and you know where I’m going. Adam’s asleep, and probably will be for another hour. Okay?”
He looked into her eyes and couldn’t help but smile. “Okay sweet woman, you go visiting. I’ll manage...” he sighed, “somehow.”
Laughing again, she leaned over and kissed him, then hurried from their home. As she shut the door Chris jumped, remembering those times when he had spent the night in jail. The finality of the sound was the same, and he felt very much alone.
Nope, not alone. The inevitable happened...Adam woke up early from his nap, announcing in loud and definite terms that he was not happy.
“Sarah!” Chris called, but his voice was little more than a squeak. “Ah, hell,” he added as he heard the sound of a wagon riding away. Resigned to his fate, he levered himself from the chair and went to the bedroom. Adam sat staring at him from between the bars of his crib, tears flowing down his cherubic little face.
Squatting down beside the baby’s bed, the young father said, “Hey buddy. You look about as happy as I am about this. Well, we’ll manage to get through it I reckon. Just not real certain how.”
In response, Adam pushed a chubby hand between the bars, reaching for his father. Chris’ face split in a broad smile, and he took the little hand in his. Kissing the tiny fingers, he stood up and pulled the baby from the bed. So far, so good. He had often held his infant son, cuddling him beside the fire or carrying him around the homestead. He had even taken him on horseback once or twice, although that earned him a scolding from his wife.
Cradling Adam in one arm, he snagged a quilt and headed outdoors. He had found Sarah out here several times with the baby, watching as he crawled happily around in the sunshine. Flipping the quilt out on the ground, he watched in defeat as it promptly folded in on itself. Cursing under his breath, he picked up the covering and tried it again. And again. Finally he managed to get it in some semblance of order, and lowered his little boy to it. Sitting him on the blanket Chris stepped back, preparing to sit down nearby. Instead he watched as Adam toppled forward on his face.
“Shit!” The blond hurried to retrieve the baby. Settling him back on his bottom, he watched as the little one toppled over once more. “What the hell,” he grumbled as he retrieved Adam. He shook out the blanket and then realized the problem. The blanket was on the slightest of inclines. He hadn’t even noticed it, but it had been enough to throw the already unsteady infant off balance. Grumbling his irritation at himself, the blond pulled the blanket back a few feet. Checking carefully for uneven landscape, he was finally satisfied and placed Adam back on the blanket.
Settling in on the porch steps, he watched the baby as he explored his surroundings. Chris laughed as his son rolled over on his back and began playing with his feet. They sat for some time, the father enjoying simply watching the innocence and joy of his little boy. Larabee shook his head in amazement at the tiny things that held his son’s attention. Adam Larabee was single-minded in his investigation of the grass blades that surrounded his blanket-boundaries.
After a time the sun and his stomach informed Chris that it was lunch time. Going to the stove inside, he prepared the baby’s food, and fixed himself a sandwich. Returning to the yard he found Adam preparing to escape the blanket, his wobbly hands and knees trying to carry him toward the corral. “Hey there buddy, where do you think you’re going?” He left the bowl of mushed up food and his lunch on the blanket’s edge and retrieved the wandering baby. “You come on back here and let me get some lunch down you, then maybe we’ll go visit the horses, okay?”
Adam giggled in his father’s arm, and continued giggling as he did his best to evade the spoon Chris tried to poke in his smiling mouth. “Ah, come on son, you’ve got to eat something or your Mama’s likely to skin me alive. Come on now.”
Twenty minutes later found Chris wearing a good portion of Adam’s lunch on his clothing, and his son was still giggling. “I swear kid, if you eat like this all the time, it’s a wonder you ain’t shriveled up and blown away.”
Cleaning them both up, Chris made good on his word and took his baby boy out to the corral. Adam’s face lit up even more at the sight of the horses milling around inside. He strained away from his father’s chest, little chubby arms reaching out toward the big animals. Larabee laughed. He was his father’s son all right, born a horseman. Pulling the latch up, he opened the gate, and walked inside the little enclosure. The baby squealed as the beasts snorted and moved away from them. Finally they managed to get near a paint, less skittish than the other animals. Standing next to the filly, Chris allowed the baby to reach out and touch the woolly coat. Tentative fingers stretched out and tickled the ends of the hair that in turn tickled his fingers. A happy giggle bubbled up from the child in his arms, causing the blond to laugh in return. For her part, the little mare scuttled away from the strange noises.
Watching his son’s expression change, he said, “We’ll have to work on her, buddy. She’ll calm down one of these days, then I’ll see if we can convince your mama that it’s safe for you to be on her back.” Snuggling the infant in his arms, Larabee left the corral and started toward the creek, intent on taking his son down to look for fish. Then an ill-wind blew and Chris’ face crinkled into a grimace. “Whew, boy, don’t tell me you’ve done what it sure smells like you’ve done.” Reversing his steps he started toward the house, feeling very much like a man heading for the gallows.
Entering the dark coolness of the house, Chris set out to tackle the problem that loomed with ever more insistence over his head. Carrying the over-ripe child into the bedroom, he rooted through the things Sarah had left and soon had his arsenal prepared. “Okay pard, here’s the plan. You lay still now, no squirming around or laughing. You do that, then your papa can probably manage to change you without poking you or anything.”
Releasing the diaper, he pulled it away from the baby’s body. The odor that had already assailed his senses threatened to overcome him. Eyes watering, the blond said, “Jesus boy, what are you trying – “
Chris’ complaint was cut off as – true to his heritage – Adam Larabee took aim and fired. Backpedaling, he threw up his hands as if that gesture would protect him. Blinking hard and fast, he managed to regain his vision in time to catch Adam before he managed to decorate the bed as well. “Okay young’n, that’s it. Put down that weapon and surrender to your papa.”
Wiping his face with a handy cloth, he tossed it aside and managed to change the baby. A short time later, both of them cleaned up again, he started out once more to head for the creek...
“By the time Sarah got home, I had gone through about every shirt I had. But I survived, and so did Adam and the house.” Chris shook his head. Looking over, he saw Vin practically falling out of his chair laughing. “Yeah, I’d like to see you do any better pard.” But then he found himself joining the younger man in laughter.
At that moment, they saw the young man from the stagecoach exiting the hotel. He looked from one side to the other, an expression of a wild animal suddenly set free from a trap on his young face. Seeming to make a decision, he headed toward them, or more precisely the saloon.
“Looks like he got a reprieve,” Vin said with a lingering smile.
“Man can only take so much torture,” Chris winked at his friend. As the young stranger approached, Larabee spoke up. “You wouldn’t be going for a drink, would you?”
The young man jumped at the unexpected voice, then looked at the two men sitting outside the saloon. He considered turning around and returning to the hotel as quickly as possible; neither man looked like anyone he would want to run into trouble with. But then something in the hazel green eyes told him that the man in black had traveled the road he was on now. “Uh... yeah, that was my intent, Mr....?”
Stretching out of his chair, Chris extended his hand, “just call me Chris.”
“Nice to meet you Chris. My name’s Joshua,” he shook the offered hand warmly.
“Well Joshua, come on in. Let me buy you a drink.” With Vin trailing them, the occasional chuckle still escaping his handsome face, the gunman ushered the young, harried father into the saloon. “And maybe I can give you a few tips about fatherhood.”
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